eLearning Templates refer to a set of standard screens you can create for a course to provide visual and cognitive continuity. By using a template, all the screens in one course will have some similar features, such as a consistent color scheme, theme or layout.
Note: if you are looking for a template immediately, scroll down to the end of this article for a free download.
Using standardized eLearning templates for structured online learning has a lot of advantages. Not only does it look more professional than a haphazard or random set of screens, but a template has cognitive benefits too.
Benefits of Templates
A template provides the consistency many learners need so they won’t waste mental effort relearning where screen elements reside as they proceed through a course. It also provides a natural way to chunk information, which helps learners avoid cognitive overload. And as an added bonus, designers can use their set of screen templates as a job aid to make sure they are including the appropriate elements in a course, such as an introduction, interactivity and a review.
Using templates doesn’t mean that every screen looks identical. You can provide lots of variety within your eLearning template design and on the screen itself.
How to Create the Template
The tools you use to create screen templates depend on the authoring system you use to develop the course and on the skills and talent available. If you’re using an authoring tool based on PowerPoint, you can create the templates directly in PowerPoint.
Or you can create templates in a graphics program, like Photoshop or Gimp, and import the full screens into your authoring tool. Alternately, you can create certain screen elements, like buttons and title bars, with graphics software and import those elements into PowerPoint, Flash or any authoring software. (See my list of free and reasonably priced graphic software, most of which is online.)
If you start with a simple deign like the one below, you can embellish it when appropriate and remove extraneous visual information when it interferes with learning. If you’re not sure of which elements to include in an eLearning screen, please see Considerations For Screen Design for those details.
Many eLearning courses are built around a theme, such as realistic scenarios at work. Or they may use a metaphor that allows learners to explore and discover, like browsing in a library or traveling to an exotic destination. If a theme will motivate your learners and provide opportunities for sound instruction, then incorporate the theme into the template.
Types of Screens
The types of screens you’ll use depends on your instructional strategies, content, media assets, audience and the standards defined by the course sponsor (if any). For example, if your course is based on video footage or animations, you might want to have several screen layouts where video and animations will reside.
Or if your strategy includes many short topics, you might want to have a topic introduction screen so learners know they are moving into a new subject area. I use a three-element layout like the one below, when it’s important for learners to compare and contrast three things at once.
Here are some types of screens you might create for a course. You might only need a few from the list below and you might want to create additional ones not listed here. So pick and choose what would work best for your criteria. I recommend always having a blank screen in your set so that your creativity won’t be limited by screen elements.
- Title Screen: The first screen users see with an enticing image and title.
- Introduction Screen: Many courses start off with a motivational story, a question or an explanation of the benefits of the course. Some start with a mini-tutorial explaining how to use the course software.
- Objectives Screen: If you have a lot of lessons, you may want to have a specific screen that lets learners know the objectives. Since a list of objectives is rather boring, it’s best to frame them in terms of how the course will help the learner achieve new skills.
- Presentation Screens: These are the screens that hold instructional content. You might find that you need some variety here, for example:
- Blank screen: for an unstructured approach (always have one of these to increase your creative options)
- Split screen: for placing text in one area and an exercise or graphic in another.
- Quad screen: for neatly arranging four elements on the screen, such as four videos or four labeled graphics.
- Horizontal split screen: these have a lot of creative uses. I like to divide these screens unevenly, but two equal horizontal halves could also come in handy!
- Triple Screen: You may want to create a layout that works when you need to display three items for comparison or association.
- Video Screen: You may want a special screen for videos. You can create or buy a player with controls or you can place the video on a colored background or create a border.
- Interactive Screens: Some designers like to create a unique look for interactive and practice screens. These might have a consistent area for instructions and one for the interactive elements.
- Case Study Screens: Many courses are based on case studies and use a problem-solving model to provide instruction. A case study screen might have a set of folders with information about team members in the case study or it might display a broken piece of equipment with a list of symptoms. Case study screens should have an overarching look, but provide room for the variety of cases to be tackled.
- Review Screens: You can create a special look and feel for reviewing the key points of a course.
When you’re involved with template design, try to find a balance between novelty and consistency. Novelty in visual and instructional design can capture attention and keep learners interested. Consistency can reduce the demands on working memory and help learners feel comfortable with how a course is organized and its visual design.
You can download the template shown here (fits PC PowerPoint screens) with many more screen types and a PowerPoint example. Simple eLearning Template.